Author Archives: Pat Higo

University of Detroit Marching Band

The University of Detroit had a marching band to go along with some of their football games. The first student band were engineers dressed as clowns, played at a football game in which U of M defeated U of D, 39-6 on November 1, 1913.

The first organized band was formed in September of 1919 when a call went out for volunteers and twenty-five musician showed up. The first appearance was for a performance of As You Like It by the Thespians in April 31, 1920 at Orchestra Hall. The band was supposed to make its debut at a St. Patrick’s Day dance, but due to the fact that a local fraternity held a party on that date, it was postponed. After practicing all summer, the band was ready to perform for the football season of 1920. The band got new uniforms in November  1920 as a result of an interested alumni, Tom Chawke, who raised $1,000 in three days. Although the school colors of red and white was adopted back in 1892, these uniforms were blue and black. In October of 1925 a student band of 45 pieces made its first appearance in new red and white uniforms.

During WWII, the band had been disbanded in 1941 and university football games were suspended from 1943 to 1944. The first all university marching band was reorganized in 1947. Prior to 1947, a majority of the band members were recruited from the local high school or from professional musicians in the city. The new group had five women including Phyllis Gibson who brought her own tuba.

The band played their last concert in April 7, 1962. The university could no longer support the expense of personnel salaries and instrument and uniform repair and upkeep. In the fall of 1963, the students formed a “pep-band” that continues to play at basketball and other student activities.

Robert Frost: Poetry reading and informal talk at University of Detroit, Nov. 14, 1962

Robert Frost gave one his last public readings of his poetry at the University of Detroit on November 14, 1962. (He died January 29, 1963, at the age of 88.) He was also awarded an honorary degree form the university in “recognition of the achievements of Robert Frost as a poet and humanist, who has advanced permanently the art of poetry and the importance of the liberal arts in our national life.” (part of the citation read conferring the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters upon Robert Frost by the University of Detroit, November 13, 1962). He spoke for over an hour before a sell-out audience of 9,000 people in the Memorial Building (now known as Calihan Hall),  reciting and discussing his poetry as well as commenting on a variety of subjects. Some of his quotes:  “I count cities as trophies of my life, especially if I’ve slept in them-alone. These big cities give me confidence. They hold the continent down.”, and “I never dared be radical when I was young for fear I would be conservative when old”. He even gave his version of the Mother Goose rhyme “Humpty Dumpty”: “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, and not all the psychiatrists nor all the psychologists could put Humpty Dumpty together again.”

A video of Robert Frost’s address and poetry reading at the University of Detroit is available at the library.

While Frost was in Detroit for his address, he stopped by the Fisher Theater the night before, noting its beauty remarked: “You should have a beautiful place in which to say beautiful things.” The theater manager, Joe Nederlander, invited him to watch the current attraction “Lord Pengo”, but Frost graciously declined. “If I was only 85, I might; but I have to get my sleep.”

U of D Class of ’79 Tower Yearbook: Finances, Food Fights and Football?

The 1979 Tower Yearbook almost didn’t make it out for publication. Severe budget cuts left no money at all for its production. Some students got together with the Dean of Students to gather the necessary resources to produce the yearbook. I am so glad they had the foresight to make this yearbook. One of the most common questions that comes to the archives is from someone looking for  information about a relative that attended the university. Outside of maybe a name listed in the Commencement Program, there is not much more information about the person.

Can you tell the movie Animal House was a big hit with the college crowd back then?

Even though the university football program had ended back in 1964, There were football games for students to attend. From what I can gather going through the Varsity News, the football field was used for high school games and intramural  teams of the fraternities on campus. Check out the special collection of UDMercy Football Program collection for the good old days when the University of Detroit had a football team that played such teams as  Purdue, Texas Tech and Villanova.

Safety Street: UDM Halloween Tradition

In 1990 the University of Detroit Mercy chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) started Safety Street out of the concern for the safety of neighborhood children. The first Safety Street was set up at Kassab Mall where the architecture students created cardboard facades for neighborhood kids to get their treats. Local schools and daycare centers were invited to participate. Now the Halloween tradition has expanded to take over the whole fountain area in front of the student center. It involves all the fraternities, sororities, student groups and various college departments to provide candy and games for all the neighborhood children. Even the School of Dentistry participates by giving out free toothpaste, toothbrushes and dental floss. In the past well over 400 children would come dressed up in their Halloween costumes to this free event.

U.S. Presidents in the UDM Autograph Collection

While we listen to all the political speeches and media speculation as to the outcome of the 2012 Presidential election, here are some of the autographs of U.S. Presidents, before, during and after their term in office. I am no expert, but I suspect some of the autographs may be just stamps or autopen as noted in Wikipedia. Here is a sampling of some of the presidential signatures we have in the collection in alphabetical order:

Grover Cleveland, 22nd & 24th President

Calvin Coolidge, 30th President

Dwight D. Eisenhower. 34th President

Gerald R. Ford, 38th President

James A. Garfield, 20th President (signature on envelope)

William G. Harding, 29th President

Herbert Hoover, 21st President

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President, (written and signed by Lincoln as a partner in the law firm of Lincoln and Herndon)

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President

Harry Truman, 33rd President (Note date of letter)

In Memory of Peter D. Sieruta

This is a personal tribute to a friend and former collegue, Peter D. Sieruta, who passed away recently as a result of injuries from a fall at his home. Peter and I started work about the same time at Mercy College of Detroit Library back in 1979.  He was the library technician that worked every department there was in the library. We had a lot in common: born in the same month (October), went to the same high school (Cody), although he graduated some five years later, and shared many of the same interest in books and movies.

Peter had a real passion for  books that far surpassed that of a normal person. Peter was a writer and a very talented one. He was most interested in young adult literature. He is the only person I knew who was as anxious to hear the nominees for the Newbery and Caldecott Medals as other people were for the Academy Awards. He had a collection of short stories in a book, Heartbeats, published by HarperCollins, and was a freelance writer for Horn Book Magazine. At the time of his death he was collaborating with Elizabeth Bird and Jules Danielson for a book, Wild Things!: Untold Stories Behind the Most Beloved Children’s Books and Their Creators which is scheduled to be published by Candlewick next year. His knowledge about young adult literature was amazing as evidenced in his blog Collecting Children’s Books . I was one of his many followers who would read his blog and in fact his blog is probably one of the reasons I asked if I could have a blog to write about items in the library’s Archives and Special Collections.

Peter was a playwright as well. He had a couple of his plays produced on stage at the Attic Theatre in Detroit and BoarsHead Theater in Lansing.  He made trips to New York to see plays on Broadway and haunt the used bookstores looking for collectible children’s books. We once attended a play on the UD McNichols campus. I remember him saying, “Remember that we parked in the lot facing the (Tower) clock!” I then pointed out that the clock was on all four sides, he just laughed. I wish I could remember the name of the play, Peter would have remembered, his memory was incredible.

When Mercy College had to layoff a number of employees in the late 1980′s, Peter was the one on the library staff that was let go. He was able to find a position with the library technical services at Wayne State University and had managed to survive their latest staff reduction. Maybe in a much larger library system, his passing would get little notice; but in the literary world of young adult literature, and in my own personal world, a very special person is gone. I would usually remember his birthday about a week late, but not this time. Happy Birthday Peter!

Celebrating the UDM Law School Centennial

The University of Detroit Law School opened in September, 1912. According to the first Law School catalog: “The completed course includes three years, each of which occupies eight and one-half months…. The first semester of the year 1912-1913 will begin October 1st.”

Here is a listing of the tuition and fees for the Law School in 1912. Board and lodging could be had for $17 and up per month depending on the student’s tastes. Just to put things into perspective, the average yearly income in 1912 was about $1,000 and a gallon of gas was only 7 cents a gallon.

Although the first class of law school graduated in 1914, the Class of 1915 was considered the first to have had their entire training through the University of Detroit Law School from its very beginning in 1912.

In the June 1915 issue of  The Tamarack (forerunner of the Varsity News), published the portraits of the Law Class of 1915.

Over the past 100 years, graduates from the Law School have served as judges on the U.S. Courts of Appeals, U.S. District Courts, Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan Court of Appeals, various district, municipal and probate courts in Michigan, held major elective offices in state and local governments, including three former mayors of the City of Detroit and two former Michigan Attorney Generals.

The University of Detroit Mercy Law School has a rich and varied history from establishing the Urban Law Program with clinics in the City of Detroit, to taking the show on the road in mobile law offices with Project SALUTE – traveling over 100,000 miles to 25 states providing free legal advice to low income veterans. All in keeping with the UDM mission statement: The University of Detroit Mercy, a Catholic university in the Jesuit and Mercy traditions, exists to provide excellent, student-centered, undergraduate and graduate education in an urban context. A UDM education seeks to integrate the intellectual, spiritual, ethical, and social development of our students.

Urban Law Clinic Dedication, Nov. 24, 1965

Come fly the friendly skies of the University of Detroit Flying Club!

The University of Detroit Flying Club was first formed about 1921 and lasted off and on until about 1962. During that period the club won a number of air races including the 1925 Aero Digest Trophy at the International Air Races in New York, Dayton Daily News Trophy and the Scientific American Trophy, plus some $2,000 in cash prizes. In June 1931, the Flying Club announced that it had placed in order for a new training airplane. Up until then the only other college flying club that had owned and operated its own plane was Harvard’s club.“The plane, a Curtiss-Wright Junior carrying the school’s red and white Titan seal, is a two-seat dual control monoplane with the cockpits in a tandem arrangement….Specifications call for a wing span of 39 1/2 feet span, and a total wing area of 176 sq. ft. The overall length of the welded steel tube fuselage is 21 feet, 3 inches, and the height is 6 feet, 4 inches. The Junior takes off in a 200 feet run and climbs 600 feet a minute; top speed is 80 m.p.h. and landing speed is 30 m.p.h. the plane cruises at 70 m.p.h. on 2 3/4 gallons of gasoline per hour, which is equivalent to 25 mile per gallon.” (The Co Ord, June 1931)

In 1949 membership in the Flying Chapter of the Flying Club was $25.00, $10.00 of which is given back when leaving. It cost $1.00 to join and 50 cent dues per month. As a way to increase attendance of members and to encourage prospective members, one  free flying hour, valued at $3.25, was given to one of the members at each of the regular meetings held every other week.The club members were able to fly in the club’s Cessna 120 plane.

There are no documents describing the end of the Flying Club, but I would not be surprised if the cost owning and flying an airplane sponsored by the university would be a financial burden that could no longer be supported. The end of the Aeronautical Engineering degree at the University of Detroit in 1965 probably was a factor. That year, the Aeronautical program was merged into the Mechanical Engineering program.

Mercy College of Detroit-First Male Students

Two Males at Mercy College Surrounded by 948 Females“,”Two Boys Doing Well at Mercy-With 948 Coeds To Welcome Them” Those were some of the headlines when the press reported the first two men enrolled full-time at Mercy College of Detroit. Mercy College of Detroit re-chartered in the Spring of 1963 and included a provision to admit men to the formerly all-women campus as full-time students. Jerry Sup and Robert A. Woods were the first men to register. Both were attracted to Mercy by the Pre-College Summer Session which offered college level English and logic courses. Both passed the courses and elected to stay at Mercy rather than transfer.

Woods had little trouble adjusting, he had five sisters. Sup, the shy one, admitted “Man, the day we had to stand up and introduce ourselves, I sure was red. I don’t have any sisters.”

The distinction of being one of the first males at a previously all female college also gave Robert his fifteen minutes of fame. He appeared on CBS’ show “To Tell the Truth” in October 1963.  For those who are not old enough to know about the program: “To Tell the Truth” featured a panel of celebrities (like the current American Idol show) attempting to identify which of three persons had an unusual occupation or experience. The celebrity panel would question the contestants; the imposters were allowed to lie, but the real person had to tell the truth. After a round of questions were done, the panelist were asked to vote on who they thought was the real person. Once the votes were cast, the real person was asked to stand up, often with a lot of false starts before the real person stood up. The more wrong votes, the more prize money awarded. I have not been able to find out how successful Robert fared with his appearance on the show.

The "First Men" Fraternity, Outer Echoes, December 17, 1965

By 1965, 33 young men had enrolled along with 950 women for the highest enrollment in the 25 year history of the college. “The First Men” established Mercy College’s first men’s fraternity. For a fund raising activity they held the first Male Slave Auction, They raised $100 with bids ranging from $2.50 to $8.50. The lowest bidder of $2.50 was the superintendent of buildings at Mercy, who needed a ditch digger. A six-girl syndicate bought the President of the First Men Club to serve as package toter, gift wrapper and Christmas tree decorator. There was only one person who found fault with the auction, a freshman who was bought by his wife for $5. His response: “She got stung…I would have had to do all that work around the house anyway.”

In 1969, Bethesda Hall was set up as the men’s dormitory. The building which had been the residence for nuns, would now house 21 males. The previous year, eight men who lived on campus were housed in rooms above the college’s garage. The men students residing in Bethesda would pay $540 a semester, slightly less than a double room in Manning Hall, the women’s residence. Whatever the cost, it had to be better than living over a garage!

Governor George Romney and Viet Nam at U of D, 1965

This is one of those occasions of “Do you have….?” I get a call from someone working on a PBS documentary asking if we had a video of Governor George Romney’s 1965 broadcast on his report of his trip to Viet Nam. Sadly, we did not have any video of the event, but here is what I did find:

Governor George Romney gave his report on his trip to Viet Nam on November 16, 1965 at Memorial Stadium (now called Calihan Hall). According to the Varsity News, the decision to address college students came up while he was still in Saigon. Through a number of connections, a quick letter was sent to the Governor’s office inviting him to give a speech to the students at the University of Detroit. When the Governor arrived in Lansing on Saturday, he was informed of the U of D offer and the decision to accept the invitation was made Sunday night. When they looked at his schedule, Tuesday was the only open date. So in two days, the University made all the arrangements, called all the local colleges, got the ushers from ROTC, and set up the radio and television facilities.   Even with the short notice, about 2000 people attended the speech.

After the broadcast was over, the Governor answered questions from the students. A small group of 15 students from the University of Michigan, members of the Students for a Democratic Society, walked around in a small circle outside the building. carrying signs denouncing the government policy in Viet Nam.

Fast forward a few years later, George Romney would make his “brainwashing” statement about Viet Nam which some would say ended his run as the Republican candidate for the 1968 Presidential race.

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